Billy Barraclough’s Murmurations is a book of depth and complexity hiding behind a simple motif: to photograph starling murmurations. Undertaken as an escape from the isolation of the 2020 winter lockdown, Barraclough has rendered the rise and fall of starling formations in softly toned greys and blacks. Accompanied by poet Lue Mac’s writings, this publication explores form in time, sound, and the way that word and image work together.
An inky black mark flecked at the edges – alone it doesn’t mean that much. But when grouped with others barely indistinguishable from itself, it becomes something more. This could be the essential description for words as written language, and for the stark silhouettes of the starlings that appear throughout the book. Lue Mac’s words and Barraclough’s images mesh together, blurring into abstraction, where their form, shape and pattern often supersede the form of written language or trace image. In Murmurations the classifications of reading and looking are interchangeable. Sometimes I find myself looking at Lue Mac’s poems rather than reading them. My eyes, released from the usual boundaries of words and their meanings, can navigate the shape, space and flow of these marks on a page. At other times I begin to observe each avian fleck as calligraphic in nature. Like the alphabet of some unknown language, the reading eye seeks to find definition, narrative or information of any kind in this sea of glyphs.
For me, the essence of Murmurations is the way that these two artists use their respective mediums to create an absolute sensual experience for the viewer. Everything about Murmurations strives to bring you closer to their lived experience of watching the pirouettes of these masses of starlings. Visually, when engaging with this book, you become immersed in movement, and as the work unfurls into larger page spreads there is a growing depth, a volume and scale to the work. At times you remain distant to the “show” as Billy calls it, at other times it engulfs your field of vision. You have a sense of losing yourself deep inside the swirling congregation.
Lue Mac’s words and Barraclough’s images mesh together, blurring into abstraction, where their form, shape and pattern often supersede the form of written language or trace image.
Sound resonates from these pages. At times it is through the visual noise of the starlings resembles the static of an old television set and the unmistakable white noise that accompanies it. At other times, sound seems to emanate from Mac’s words. The lines ‘the susurrations of moss’ and ‘seems something short of mine’ evoke a landscape of hissing and pulsating that ebbs and flows with the movement of the birds. Mac’s words create a soundscape for the book, charging it with emotion and rhythm.
Murmurations is in many ways a book about time. Whilst Barraclough freezes the sublime and seasonal motions of these birds, Mac’s poetry finds itself in real time. However, unlike the traditional linear notion of time in relation to the photographic or written word there is a sense of no end with this book. There is no death of a moment, as Roland Barthes might say, only a recycling of time.